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What is a "sleep divorce" and can it be a good thing for your relationship?

Posted at 2:30 PM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 16:30:21-05

"The marital bed is a window into our deepest vulnerabilities and how we look to our relationships to make us feel safe during threatening times," says Dr. Wendy Troxel, a Clinical Psychologist specializing in sleep.

She's spent her career studying the coupled nature of sleep, and is also the author of the book "Sharing the Covers: Every Couple's Guide to Better Sleep".

Dr. Troxel says she gets asked all the time, "Is it bad if my partner and I sleep apart?"

In fact, data suggests that one out of every three couples buying custom, high-end homes are opting for dual master bedrooms.

It's called a "sleep divorce" when even happy couples choose to sleep apart.

Dr. Troxel joined us with what the science says about the costs and benefits of couples sleeping alone.

When sleep is measured objectively, people sleep worse with a partner. But when you ask those same people, most say they prefer to sleep with their partner. Dr. Troxel says this means our social brain is prioritizing our need for closeness at night, even if it comes at a cost to sleep.

That said, we all need to make sleep a priority. Sleepless nights can bring relationship harms.

Dr. Troxel says some people are night owls who like to burn the midnight oil. Others are larks who wake up chipper at the crack of dawn. So should birds of a feather sleep together?

Dr. Troxel says couples who are in sync with their sleeping and awake times do enjoy some relationship benefits. But, research also shows that couples who have good problem solving skills are able to overcome the out-of-sync problems.

Dr. Troxel says night owls spend some quality time together, in bed before that early bird falls asleep.

But she also says it's not necessarily bad if couples choose to sleep apart. If sleeping apart seems like the best choice for you, don't look at it as a sleep divorce. "Instead look at it as unconscious uncupling," says Dr. Troxel.

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